Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The End is Near

Today is the Palm Sunday, the final Sunday in Great Lent.Everyone knows the story: Jesus mounts a donkey, rides it into Jerusalem, people line the sides of the road, yada, yada, yada.

No, I am not being dismissive of the event, but I think it’s time we look at it from a different perspective – from Jesus’ view point of what is going on, and it may surprise you to see it this way.

Jesus knew what was going to happen in the next few days, at least according to The Plan, this was to be his swan song, his Waterloo. Unless something dramatically changed (human will) he would not be continuing his missionary trip. But, there was hope at the time, he would make one last pitch to the Powers That Be…the Sanhedrin. If he could but convince them, get them to change their minds and see the Error Of Their Ways, his death could yet be prevented.

This ride was to be a message to those men, not so much for the people. The symbolic arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey was a clear message to the Sanhedrin. King Solomon rode to his coronation on a donkey, one that belonged to King David:

1 Kings 1:33-34 (RSV) And the king (David) said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon; 34 and let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’

Also, the Prophet of God Zechariah predicted:

Zechariah 9:9 (RSV) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.

They were well aware of these readings, and of the symbolism Jesus was putting before them…here arrives your King and Messiah, listen to him, acknowledge him and his teachings.

In a few days Jesus will have his last meal with the twelve; Judas will finalize the arrangements to hand Jesus over to the Sanhedrin; Jesus will ask his Father to soften their hearts so that his death would not be necessary; the soldiers of the Sanhedrin will arrest Jesus; then Jesus will make his final plea before them to hear his message; they will not soften their hearts, choosing to ignore the message and protect their interests instead. All will come to pass according to The Plan, despite Jesus’ best efforts to get everyone to “see The Light”.

The people quickly changed sides, those who laid down palms on this day will, in less than a week, turn around and demand Bar-Abbas be freed and Jesus condemned to death, joining in with the voices of the Pharisees. In a few days Jesus will be crucified and buried, then, despite his appearance to over five-hundred people, the people will deny everything and return back to their normal lives.

Are we any different? People today are reaching out and helping others in a response to this virus (some are behaving badly by taking more than they need from shelves, not caring that others may actually need something they are over-purchasing [do you really need 4 cases of toilet paper?]). In a few weeks this will all be over, as every virus before it has run its course (the Plague, SARS, Avian Flu) and things will return to normal…people will go back to their normal lives. Will we take anything from this experience? Will we continue to reach out to those in need and offer a helping hand? Or, will we, as those people 2,000 years ago, just go back to their normal lives…probably.

We, as a species, rarely learn long-lasting lessons. Jesus brought a message of faith and love, of brotherhood and caring. After his death a fragment of his followers worked hard to continue the message…but how well have we actually followed it? Racism, sexism, wars fought because one group had a different interpretation of the message than another.

Do you love your neighbor, or does it depend on who that neighbor is? Do you hate someone because they are: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, black, yellow, red, white, gay, straight, carnivore, vegan, rich, poor, homeless, corporate president, tree hugger?

This has been an interesting Lent, full of lessons of love and hope. But, once it is over, will we carry this message through the rest of our lives? Will it make a permanent change in us, or will we return to our normal lives?

 

Comments on: "The End is Near" (10)

  1. “Boring isn’t it?” said one chap I passed yesterday. I had to disagree. “I am enjoying this life at a slower pace.” I replied. And the a coupe of houses up and a young couple cleaning the life out of their two cars: “We will be a nation of clean cars soon.” and they just smiled back and continued shining their already gleaming motors.

    I think we struggle with rules – the rules to stay at home, to buy only “essential goods”, of no more going here and there without a thought or care, of having “nothing to do” (which I don’t “get”) . What I ponder in these not-normal days and this year’s new Lent / Easter / Sunday service routine (and tradition) – is whether the gene of “sin” is more a convenient “not my fault scapegoat” for our dislike of “rules” than much anything else.

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    • To be honest, being retired my life has changed little. Other than restrictions on where I can go (and how I get there) my life is fairly normal. The largest problem is people behaving badly by clearing store shelves of some items as soon as they arrive. A woman I volunteer with told me she encountered someone purchase four cases of toilet paper (72 rolls per case) and asked if she really needed that much, eventually she was able to talk the person into putting two cases back. Funny thing is, diarrhea isn’t a symptom of COVID-19, so stocking up really isn’t necessary. Same with some of the other items people are hoarding. If people would only calm down we could easily handle this, as with all the other viruses we’ve encountered as a species.

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  2. You know, working through Hebrews gives me a different perspective, perhaps. Because I can’t agree when you said, “If he could but convince them, get them to change their minds and see the Error Of Their Ways, his death could yet be prevented.” It seems that, one way or another, Jesus had to die and rise from death. Otherwise there would be no access for all, once for all time, to the Father, and we would still be operating under the “shadows of the things to come”.

    But, that aside, I agree, we will all probably simply return to our normal lives, or try to. I’ve read an article that claims we are making this apocalypse ourselves rather than responding appropriately to a virus. Whether true or false, regardless of whether we will have normal lives to return to, it’s a safe bet humans will not be more inclined to seek their Creator through our Savior, Jesus. It’s easier for us to believe ridiculous rumors on Facebook than Scripture. So, here we are.

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    • Hebrews is looking backwards at historical events, the Gospels relate events as they happened (yes written later, but in the present tense). If you look at Jesus in Gethsemane we see him asking the Father to allow the cup to pass, for events not to occur as expected. The only way this could happen is if the Sanhedrin would accept the message Jesus is bringing. If they accepted the message then the Crucifixion would not have happened.

      This all enters the realms of “free will” and “predestination”. Does one preclude the other? If the Sanhedrin’s actions are destined to follow a course with no possibility of change then why bother with Jesus’ preaching to them? Why waste his time reaching out to the Pharisees? Why have Paul waste time preaching to a group for whom it is already known that they will not accept the message? Why not just direct Paul’s mission to those who will accept the Good News?

      There has to be the possibility, however remote, of change. If there is a possibility then there is, however small, the chance that Jesus’ mission is successful and the ruling body accepts his teaching.

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      • Oh, I see what you mean, the Sanhedrin wouldn’t have had killed Jesus. And, that could be, I suppose. But Jesus had to die, one way or the other. Whatever method or path, without a sacrifice, there would have been no salvation. And Jesus predicts His death with His disciples, and when Peter tells Him he won’t let it happen, Jesus tells Peter that he doesn’t have the things of God at heart. It had to happen, whatever way, it was going to happen, regardless of free will, it was the purpose and design of God. One way or another, that design, from Genesis on, required Jesus to die and rise again.

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    • Under The Plan it had to happen, but God could have changed the plan, which is what Jesus was asking. If that had happened then a different method to salvation could have been made possible. We only see the death/resurrection as required because that is what happened. If the Sanhedrin had capitulated then the question becomes if that would have been sufficient in God’s eyes to settle things.

      Another example would be, what if Adam had refused the temptation? Then no sacrifice would be needed because there would have been no offense.

      This is all conjecture because it is all history. But, we have to allow for the possibility of it happening otherwise, else you enter the realm of predestination and eliminate free will.

      It’s a difficult concept to grasp: history, God’s plan, free will, predestination. When I was (much) younger I struggled with it (and with unbending nuns) until a vision cleared it up (for me) as I was staring at a map of the solar system. Everything that has happened, and that ever will happen, is done by man’s free will, given to us by God (as opposed to animals who operate on instincts). Everything that we do is influence by a myriad of different, sometimes unseen, forces acting upon us and those around us. How we act/react to these influences is under our control. If someone hits me I have two basic responses: hit back or not. What I do is my choice, but it is influence by everything that has happened in my life up to that point: parent’s, friends, causal acquaintances, strangers, all contributed to my psyche and therefore go to make up which action I take.

      Now, look at it from God’s vantage point. Imagine a circle with a microscopic gap at one point. One side of the gap is creation, the other side of the gap is the end times, God is in the center of the circle. From this vantage point God can see everything that has and will happen because He is outside of the circle. While everything we do is from our free will, God can see the entire timeline because He is outside of it. Everything we do forms each dot in the circle, and goes to determine where the next point of the circle lies, but for God everything in the circle is happening and has already happened.

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      • So, not “predestination” but “foreknowledge”? Okay, I think I get your point. From our point of view, though, it looks a lot like a strange combination of both “freewill” and “predestination”. Otherwise, how would God be able to predict outcomes, the coming of Jesus, and Jesus predict His death three times? So, I get your “time-wheel” for God’s perspective preserving “free-will”, but I also appreciate Scripture’s assertion of both-and rather than one-not-the-other. I think that’s because it’s written from a human perspective on divine realities. Even so, it doesn’t take a major philosopher to see that, from Eden forward, someone had to die.

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      • “Someone had to die because someone did”

        I disagree with that logic, it puts human constraints on God. We see it as the only possibility because that’s how it happened. We see it as the only possibility, but if that’s the case then Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane was just plain stupid, he must have thought that there was the slightest possibility of a change in the coming events, otherwise he wouldn’t have prayed that way.

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      • Wait, I said that? I certainly didn’t intend to. And the prayer in Gethsemane always has bothered me, partly for the reasons you point out.

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